Cardinal Godfred Daneels said, “The human person hesitates before the True, is impotent before the Good, but loves Beauty.”
As congregations begin to make preparations for Advent, this holy – true, good, and beautiful – season of the year, the O Antiphons stand out as one of the Church’s Advent prayer practices that can lead us to the peaceful, simple, rooted posture that we all seek.
What are the O Antiphons? Worship is like a conversation between us and God. The Lord speaks and we answer. God speaks to us in Scripture and the homily. We answer in several ways, usually with a short text taken from Scripture. These “short answers” are called antiphons. After the first reading, we respond with a responsorial psalm. Part of that responsorial psalm, we repeat over and over again; this is the antiphon.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church, one set of Antiphons is used with the Magnificat, the prayer which Mary spoke to Elizabeth. During the week before Christmas, each antiphon starts with the word “O” and are followed by various titles used for Jesus. The seven titles for Jesus include:
Historians have found that Benedictine monks had a little fun by arranging the antiphons to convey a hidden meaning. If you arrange the Latin titles from last to first, then take the first letter of each antiphon, you get an anagram that forms the Latin words “ero cras,” meaning “Tomorrow I will come.”
The Marian Library at the University of Dayton (www.udayton.edu/mary/resources/oantiphons.html) has arranged a chart outlining the content and intent of praise of the O antiphons.
Today the O Antiphons are most familiar to us in the hymn, “O come, O come Emmanuel.” Each verse of the hymn parallels one of the antiphons.
In addition to their use in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Gospel acclamation, the O Antiphons can be used in family prayer, in congregational prayer, in children’s and teens’ faith formation settings – singing the antiphons accompanied by the related Scripture readings and prayers. They can be prayed at family dinner times or with the lighting of the Advent wreath, with a short explanation of their biblical background. The titles can also be depicted by simple symbols and drawings by children or families – on posters, fridge art, or journals.
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